Archive for November, 2013|Monthly archive page

In weakness, strength

My wife had a serious accident two weeks ago – and we learned how dependent we are on God.

We were in the midst of a one-day visit to Milan, Italy as part of an extended holiday. We decided to run for a tour bus across the Piazza del Duomo and when I arrived at the bus, I turned and couldn’t see my wife.

I retraced my steps and found her lying on her side beside a parked taxi, bleeding from the nose and mouth. A taxi driver was very kindly holding her head up from the pavement. My wife said she could not move her arms and legs.

That’s frightening.

Things happened quickly after that. Another taxi driver phoned an ambulance, my wife was lifted into the ambulance and we sped to a nearby hospital over a bumpy road. My wife was now able to move her legs but there were shooting pains – worse than childbirth, she said – down her arms and hands.

It was heartrending to see my normally-stoic wife calling out in pain as she was wheeled into the hospital emergency and later down the hall to CAT scans and X-rays.

My Italian consists of a few phrases so it was hard to communicate with nurses and doctors who could speak no English. Thankfully, a doctor who could speak French – I am quite fluent in French – was assigned to my wife.

The CAT scans and X-rays uncovered no concussions or fractures and my wife was discharged the next day though still in serious pain, very weak, and unable to use her hands. It was not until we returned to Ottawa, Canada a few days later that an MRI was carried out which revealed she had a spinal cord contusion causing nerve damage – and the excessive pain.

My weakened wife returned with me to our hotel in Genoa by train and we began a frantic few days trying to book flights home. With the help of our hard-working travel agent and our Ottawa-based daughter, we were able to get a flight, receiving confirmation about four hours before our plane left Genoa.

By this time, we had mobilized an army of pray-ers in our church and our children’s churches in Canada and the United States. We are convinced that it was these prayers that took us over the multiple hurdles we had to leap before boarding that flight home.

Throughout this time, we knew we could not manage on our own. We needed God’s help.

Back home, we have been flooded by love and help from our family and our church family. We are so grateful for this concern and support.

I have written before in this blog about the apostle Paul’s great statement in 2 Corinthians 12 where he talks about his appeal to God to take away a “thorn in the flesh”. He reports God’s response in these words in verse 8:

“My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.”

Our Italian adventure imprinted this truth indelibly on my heart and mind.

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Excellence

There is a laudable emphasis on “excellence” in Christian circles these days.

We want superior worship singing, interesting sermons, well-organized church activities. We are concerned that outsiders won’t come – or insiders will leave – if our church looks down-at-the-heels or old-fashioned or just plain boring.

I agree that we should put our best foot forward as Christians. We want to do all things well.

But my question is: Why should we be excellent?

Some would say that excellence is important if we are going to attract non-believers to Jesus. I agree that a “with-it” church is more likely to appeal to a “hip-and-happening” non-Christian than a fusty old congregation.

But is that what ultimately draws people to Jesus? A “with-it” church may, indeed, get some people in the church door. But, it seems to me that the age-old reasons for people coming to Christ remain the same today as they did in Jesus’ day – the Holy Spirit, loving other people, sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ.

Certainly, Jesus did not have a great worship band or a fine building when he spoke to large crowds in the open air. His miracles, his compassion, and his words struck like hammer blows on the hearts of his listeners.

So, again, why should we be excellent?

Paul said it best in 1 Corinthians 10:31: “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.”

We should be excellent to bring honour and glory to the Lord. When people see us doing our best – even going beyond the expected – they will see that Christians are deeply committed to their God. We aren’t content with half-hearted efforts. We want people to admire – and worship – God.

When we hear about glorifying God, we may feel that the idea is hard to grasp. How do we glorify God – how do we honour him – in our everyday lives?

I think it begins with our motives. Am I doing this for myself – or my company, or my church? Or, am I doing this to bring praise to God?

I confess that my motives are often mixed – with a lot of selfishness thrown in.

I enjoyed a list of practical ways suggested by Kevin DeYoung, a pastor in East Lansing, Michigan, in an article for The Gospel Coalition. Here is the link: http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/kevindeyoung/2010/10/05/how-can-i-glorify-god/

Submit! And then what?

I am told that the word “Islam” means “submission”.

Christians also believe that we must submit to God.

But I think much depends on who we think we are submitting to.

From what I understand, radical Islamists believe that force is permissible in bringing unbelievers to submit to God. Unfortunately, there are some Christians who also believe that force is acceptable against those who disagree with us – violence against abortionists is an example.

That is not Jesus’ way.

It seems to me that those who use violence to enforce their religious viewpoint believe in a different God than me. That governs the way they approach people outside their faith.

It is true that Jesus spoke of an ultimate judgement for those who reject God. But he chose to sacrifice himself out of love for those who do not know God. He sought them with an outstretched hand of love rather than with the sword.

From my point of view, the god of the Islamic jihadists must be an angry God. My God is a just God but he is also merciful, slow to anger and full of love for weak human beings.

In his life on earth, Jesus did exactly what the Father wanted him to do. When his disciple Peter sliced off the ear of someone arresting Jesus, the Lord healed the man’s ear and rebuked Peter for using his sword (John 18:11).

When the Roman procurator Pilate asked Jesus whether he was a king, Jesus replied: “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is from another place.” (John 18:36)

He was speaking of a spiritual kingdom – God entering the hearts of men and women.

As a Christian, why must I submit to God? Because if I go on my own, I am lost. God loves me and wants the best for me. And I can only get the full benefits of being in his family if I follow the path he has set out before me.

A lot depends on what kind of God I am submitting to.

If I believe God is an angry and hateful God, that is the way I will treat others.

For me, submitting to God means that the God of love can pour out his love through me.